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Elections board asks for more help
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With a primary and a general election looming, the board of elections questioned Effingham County commissioners why its budget requests were reduced by more than one-fourth.

Board of Elections Chairman Herb Jones said the budget request the elections board submitted was cut by 30 percent, and their proposal was based on three elections. Jones said the county staff’s recommended budget was based on having two elections. There is the potential for three elections and maybe more.

“There are two elections in the primary that could cause a runoff,” he said.

There are five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to oppose U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, and Jones said it is likely that the race will lead to an August runoff.

Plus, the probate judge election could result in another runoff in December. The probate judge race will be voted on in November and there are three declared candidates so far.

“We have the potential for four runoffs,” Jones said.

Jones and elections board member Tommy Allen pleaded for an additional full-time employee at the board of elections office. Since the beginning of the year, the office has registered more than 1,400 voters. The elections code book is 300 pages long, and the office also handles candidate campaign disclosure forms.

“We desperately need a person who can be trained in this,” Jones said. “If we had nothing but a part-time person, we don’t know if that person would be available or not.”

Jones also said it is misconception that the elections department has little to do between elections.

“There is something going on every day,” he said. “You can’t get good competent help on a part-time or temporary basis for technical activities. We need people who can do the job and not come and go. I question the idea very seriously that there is nothing to do over there.”

Jones also said the office needs the dedicated phone lines in order to get information from the precincts scattered across the county.

“The lines are pretty tied up (on election days) by people calling in wanting to know where they are going to vote,” he said. “That starts at 6 a.m.”

County finance director Joanna Wright said the line item for the phone lines was moved elsewhere in the budget.

Jones also said the elections department has 123 machines and needs 133 for the upcoming elections. Five of those machines are reserved for early voting. The board of elections also has had a request for another early voting location, perhaps in southwest Effingham.

“I don’t know how you can arbitrarily cut ($2,000) out for the machines,” Allen said to commissioners.

Wright said many of the items that were cut were office furniture. The elections board requested a budget of $384,685 and county staff recommended $273,636, an increase of 92 percent over its previous fiscal year. The elections department had a budget of $142,282 for FY08.